15 ways to beat the January blues
Moods can dip following the excesses of the festive season, but they can be lifted again with a little know-how. Katie Byrne rounds up a group of experts and finds out how to keep the new year blues at bay.
GO WITH THE FLOW
By and large, the January blues are a natural counterpoint to the "bright lights and buzzing around" of Christmas time, says yoga teacher, mindfulness teacher and life coach Mari Kennedy, of The Yoga Salon. "For the most part, the January blues are part of a cycle," she says. "It's as natural as night follows day. In the practice of mindfulness, we think of changing moods and mental states like weather systems. They come and go. It's part of being human."
FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS
"Rather than focus on your weaknesses and how to fix them, which is what we usually do in our New Year's resolutions, focus on your strengths and how you can use them to live a more fulfilling life," says Jolanta Burke, a psychologist specialising in Positive Psychology and author of Happiness After 30: The Paradox of Ageing.
"You can visit viacharacter.org and complete a free test that will help you identify your character strengths. Then, each day, take one strength and try to use it in an innovative way. According to research, applying your character strengths in your daily life may help you chase your January blues away."
In helping others, we help ourselves to feel better, says Karolina Jurasik, a psychologist at the MyMind Centre for Mental Wellbeing (Dublin, Cork and Limerick). "Get involved with a community project, charity work, or simply help out someone you know. Helping others will put your own concerns into perspective. It'll also boost self-esteem and encourage a more positive outlook in life."
CONSISTENCY BEATS WILLPOWER
"Just to be clear, you have very little willpower, so let's get that excuse out of the way," says Allison Keating, psychologist and clinic director at bWell. "You need to 'nudge' your way towards what you want to achieve. Small discernible daily changes are the only way to go. Consistency will beat up willpower any day of the week. Rather than New Year's resolutions, we need New Year's resilience. That's the muscle we have to work on."
SUMMER IS A STATE OF MIND
"In January, many people feel like the fun is over and winter will never end. This is when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can creep in," says Fiona Brennan, clinical hypnotherapist and author of digital course, thepositivehabit.com.
"However, you have the power to create summer and light in your mind. Your subconscious does not know the difference between imagination and reality. When you close your eyes and visualise a beautiful sunny morning, you start allowing positive feelings to flow through you and this gives you a boost of serotonin to get you out of bed and face the day with a spring in your step."
LEAVE YOUR DESK AT LUNCHTIME
January blues are compounded by the lack of daylight. It's dark when you leave the house in the morning, and it's dark when you leave work in the evening. Daylight lifts the mood, even if the sun is behind the clouds, so make sure to leave your desk at lunchtime and get outside.
After a month of preparation, the first week of January can feel anticlimactic by comparison. Having something to look forward to can help to lift you out of the slump. "It's known as 'rosy prospection'," explains Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. "Anticipation of happiness is sometimes greater than the happiness actually experienced," she says. So book a trip (booking.com offer a 'pay later' option), sign up to a course or organise a meal on pay day, and notice how much better it makes you feel.
"Focus on what you have instead of what you don't have, says Jurasik. "In the new year, instead of thinking of all the obstacles in your way, try focusing on the good things and people you have in your life. Taking time out to notice simple pleasures and practice gratitude can give us a more positive outlook in life, make us more resilient, strengthen the relationships we have and help reduce stress."
LET THE JOY IN
"Neuroscience is now showing that we are wired for negativity. It's an old programme running us from back in the cave days," explains Mari Kennedy. "According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, it takes 15 seconds to register joy and pleasure in the brain. Every time you practice 'letting in the joy', you literally rewire neurons and increase your capacity for joy. This is not to be mistaken for positive thinking or bypassing the unpleasant - we have to meet those moments too.
"Try it out today. As you take that first sip of coffee, as your eyes fall on your child's beaming smiling face, as you receive your next hug from someone you love, pause for 15 seconds and bask in the warm, spacious feeling of pleasure in your body and know that you are upgrading your human operating system."
Exercise, even if it's just a quick walk at lunchtime, is proven to beat the January blues, explains Jurasik. "Being active lifts our mood, reduces stress and anxiety, improves our physical health, and gives us more energy.
"Get outside, preferably in a green space or near water. Find an activity you enjoy doing, and just enjoy it. Also, taking up a hobby or a new skill will do much to increase your confidence, and may even lead to new friendships or career opportunities."
"Take up a hobby, something new that will challenge you, but that will, at the same time, give you moments of playfulness and joy," says Burke. "As children we used to play all the time. When we became adults, many of us forgot how to play. Playing is doing something without any purpose, just for the sake of it. This is why playing with our children would not constitute as playing, because we do it with a purpose to keep our kids occupied and happy.
"To keep the January blues at bay, try to find something that is playful just for you, be it acrylic painting, even though you're not good at it, nor would you want to be the next Picasso. Alternatively, sign up for guitar or singing lessons, even though you don't dream of becoming the next star of Ireland's Got Talent."
Don't beat yourself up if you break your New Year's resolution, says Fiona Brennan. "The important thing here is to be very kind to yourself and not to look at any unwanted behaviour as perceived failure. Instead, choose to focus on all the progress you are making. "For example, eating only one chocolate as opposed to the whole box is a step in the right direction. When you take the pressure off yourself and show yourself compassion, you can and will achieve so much more."
REFRAME THE SITUATION
Try to make your circumstances work in your favour by finding the opportunity in every problem. For example, if money is short, consider it an opportunity to start bringing a healthier packed lunch into work. Likewise, think of the extra pounds that you gained as an incentive to finally join the gym. Reframing the situation makes you feel like you're in control of your life, rather than the other way around.
KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS
Don't beat yourself up if you break your New Year's resolution, says Keating. Instead, learn to understand your triggers. "Cultivate the growth mindset which will allow you room to try new, uncomfortable and difficult challenges. Encourage failure and mindfully understand what triggered you going back to the old behaviour of reaching for that sweet, or chocolate or whatever. Were you tired, hungry, stressed? How can you react differently next time? Now add this to your 'psychological toolbox'."
CONNECT WITH OTHERS
It's all too easy to isolate yourself when you have the blues, which is why it's more important than ever to stay in regular contact with your friends and family, says Jurasik. "If you're struggling with your mental wellbeing, January can feel like a never-ending slog," she says. "If this is the case, please do ask for help. Talking to a counsellor can really help if you're feeling depressed, anxious or stressed. You're never alone."
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